Photo taken on Oct. 23, 2019 shows Christmas ornaments during the 126th China Import and Export Fair, also known as the Canton Fair, in Guangzhou, capital of south China's Guangdong Province. The fair features three phases. The second, from Oct. 23 to 27, will show consumer goods, decorations and gifts. (Xinhua/Deng Hua)

The Canton Fair, a barometer for China's foreign trade which has been held for the past 63 years, will kick off online for the first time on Monday amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officials said that showed the country's efforts to help global firms expand markets and stabilize trade growth in China, which has taken a hit from the virus.

This year's Canton Fair will be held online from Monday to June 24 and will waive exhibition fees for domestic and foreign firms to help them cope with the virus impact.

Holding the fair online aims to maintain the stabilized growth of China's foreign trade and help exhibitors hedge the impact of the pandemic, Li Jinqi, an official with the Ministry of Commerce, told a press conference.

This year, the Canton Fair has set up 50 virtual exhibition zones and is providing 24-hour online supply and purchase services, Li said, noting that exhibitors could upload pictures and videos introducing their products on the platform.

"The number of products uploaded for display by companies is more than expected," he said.

"We have increased invitations to buyers from countries and regions along the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) routes and also to members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations," Zheng Jianrong, Director-General of the Department of Commerce of South China's Guangdong Province, told the same press conference.

This year's Canton Fair will continue to drive trade cooperation between China and BRI markets to a new stage, Li noted.

Li said purchasers from BRI markets have accounted for 45 percent of total buyers at the annual event in recent years, and that figure is likely to grow.

Big data, cloud computing, AI to open new vistas for exporters at online event

Technologies like the internet, big data, cloud computing and artificial intelligence will be leveraged fully to open up new vistas for exhibitors at the upcoming 127th session of the China Import and Export Fair, its organizers said on Wednesday.

Due to the COVID-19 epidemic in many parts of the world, the government rescheduled the international flagship trade event, also known as the Canton Fair, in late March, and decided to hold the same as an online event from Monday to June 24 in Guangzhou.

In line with China's focus on livestreaming, an increasingly popular tool in the country's digital marketing landscape, the fair will provide 24-hour live broadcasting platforms for exhibitors to better interact with the buyers throughout the world, said Li Jinqi, deputy director-general of the Canton Fair's organizing committee.

In addition to using well-known digital platforms such as Google and Facebook, as well as a number of social media portals, buyers from home and abroad can easily access the related exhibits while watching live broadcasts, he said, adding there are a variety of online communication tools to help buyers and sellers interact in real time, as well as improve the efficiency and effectiveness of online negotiations.

To promote global trade and share mutually beneficial development, Li said activities, such as online signings and new product launches to showcase innovative products, will be encouraged during the event. Companies can display their brand image in multiple dimensions through formats such as pictures, videos and 3D imaging to buyers in other parts of the world.

As the Canton Fair looks to engage exporters, exhibition fees will be waived to cope with the effect of the COVID-19 epidemic and help foreign trade companies expand their market and tide over the difficulties, said Zhang Li, deputy director-general of the department of foreign trade under the Ministry of Commerce.

Cross-border e-commerce platforms that participate in the fair-related activities will get fee exemptions, he said, adding that the ministry will attach equal importance to imports and exports, promote the matching of production, supply and sales, enhance online experiences of enterprises and merchants with higher technology levels and better services to succeed in the online session.

Domestic manufacturers have been gearing up to fulfill their overseas orders via the internet as the country's largest trade event is scheduled to be conducted online due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Plans have already been made to increase overseas customers' knowledge of our products through online measures," said Pan Zisheng, vice-director of the Asia-Pacific business department at Foshan, Guangdong province-based Galanz Group.

As a major producer of household electrical appliances in China, Galanz will design a web page with 3D features to display its latest products and services for overseas buyers during the online fair, he said.

Experts expect China's exports to show a stable recovery in the second half of the year on the back of a notable improvement in the industrial, supply and service chains as well as from major trade events like the upcoming Canton Fair and the third China International Import Expo.

Because the COVID-19 pandemic has already cast a shadow over global trade, aviation, services and tourism, business people are reluctant to travel to other countries. Chinese companies will have better access to the global market by showcasing their products online, said Sang Baichuan, an economics professor at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.

Bai Ming, deputy director of the international market research institute under the China Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, said organizing the event online is not only a flexible measure to deal with the pandemic, but also an innovative measure to upgrade the traditional fair, as the internet and smartphones already play a big role in people's lives and business activities.

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